Jogo do Pau

Jogo do Pau ("stick fencing" is a possible translation to English) has developed in the North of Portugal (Alto Minho and Trás-os-Montes) as a self-defence art that could help survive bad encounters with robbers, or serve for violent action (rival families or villages, settlement of issues, etc).

There is strong evidence that its technique has most probably derived from a dance in India, which would have been imported and adapted after the Discoveries, a plausible reasoning since it was never practised in Galiza (the neighbouring region of North-West Spain, with close linguistic and cultural ties with Minho and Trás-os-Montes); whatever proves to be true, it certainly has nothing to do with the Robin Hood stories or with the dance known as the Pauliteiros de Miranda (related to Asturian folklore).

1 against 3 True to its probable Asiatic origin, it is an art of combat with great mobility and high efficiency. At least until the beginning of the 20th century the masters of Jogo do Pau were very sought and earned substantial revenue from the lessons they gave. There are numerous references, including in novels, to the devastating effects that the so-called "rixas de pau" (Jogo do Pau battles) and "varrer de feira" (literally, market sweeping), and to the bad reputation that the fighters earned because of that; not least, the guerrila set up by Zé do Telhado against the Napoleon invasion of the North (and other historical episodes) has used Jogo do Pau.

During the 19th century the Jogo do Pau was brought to the region of Lisbon by a northern master, who adapted it producing a hybrid technique with that of the Gameirosabre. In this "school", Jogo do Pau is rather exhibitional, and the bellic character of the original form of the North is secondary. It was integrated in the sports modalities of clubs such as the Ginásio Clube Português and the Ateneu Comercial de Lisboa, and enjoyed a great following as a second sport for gymnastics athletes, for example. Many of the fundamental aspects of the original fight, however, namely the fight against more than one adversary, are totally absent from the Lisbon variant. The image to the right shows Mestre (master) Gameiro executing a defence in the Jogo da Cadeira (Jogo do Pau sitting on a chair), typical of the Lisbon school.

The rapid decline of Jogo do Pau in the North, during the 20th century, was the consequence of two factors: the growing use of guns for the same purpose, and emigration. Towards the end of the seventies only a few of the ancient players remained in the North, aged, not practising for tens of years and isolated, and some schools in Cabeceiras de Basto, Salto (Montalegre) and Fafe. In the Lisbon school, the players born between 1910 and 1930 were the only memory of the generation that lived through the best years of this school, providing a continuity to the seventies, when young practicioners were able to collect the heritage. Among these younger players the name of Nuno Corvello Russo (who is in all photos in this page) is of the highest relevance to ensuring that continuity. Apart from the schools at the G. C. P. and the A. C. L., I also knew of the school led by Mestre Chula at Alhos Vedros and another at Poceirão. I practised Jogo do Pau always at the G. C. P. between 1976 and 1983, first under Armando Sacadura and later with Nuno Russo.

The role of Nuno Russo in the maintenance and development of Jogo do Pau is nothing less than of a saviour. He has developed an excellent technique at the A. C. L., and visited the North frequently, acquainting himself especially with the school of Cabeceiras de Basto, to master the traditional art of the North, with great success as well; he has also interviewed and filmed old players and masters in the North. Thanks to this activity a substantial repository could be compiled and organized, invaluable not only for its sports content but also ethnographically. Beyond that, by teaching at the G. C. P., the Fuzileiros (who correspond to the Marines special troops), at Physical Education Faculties, etc., he has contributed to atracting the interest in the modality by new players.

All feedback is welcome, but ideally one should seek information through the official organizations. Earlier I thought the Federação Nacional do Jogo do Pau Português, to which Nuno Russo is connected, would be a responsive referral, but in case this fails I can add the following: the address jogodopau.portugues (, or a EuroStickFights Yahoo Group where anyone is free to join and participate. At the end of the page with the original version of this text in Portuguese some links can be found for other pages. Among them, a fine registry of old masters, literature references, videos, at tumblr (Jogo do Pau)

Paulo de Oliveira